MFA Creative Writing/Fiction Alumnus Solome Skaff ‘04 Publishes Book, LifeCare
Solome Skaff ’04 wasn’t spiritual when he graduated. In fact, he didn’t believe there was a larger purpose to human existence until things began to happen. These things taught Skaff his choices in life are significant, driving him to pursue the larger questions of life.
“I asked myself,” says Skaff, “Why are we here? What’s all this for, and what am I meant to be doing? His reflections led him to spend 12 years as a pastor, 5 years as a missionary in Europe, and to complete two more master’s degrees in counselling and psychotherapy research.
Last year, Skaff who earned an MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia, wrote LifeCare, a personal guide that helps people process through the difficulties of life. The newly released companion Training Manual is for people who, like him, have been on their own journey and now want to help others.
Here, Skaff discusses how the writing skills he learned at Columbia have helped him to be successful in a wide variety of contexts.
How did your time at Columbia College help you become a better writer?
The MFA program gave me the time and structure I needed to dedicate myself to writing. Regular instructor and peer feedback, the opportunity to participate in public readings, and broad exposure to other writers and artists, all helped me to think more critically about my own writing. It helped me develop. When I was at Columbia, I wasn't a spiritual person at all. I certainly didn't see myself becoming a pastor or missionary living in Europe, or becoming a counselor and researcher. But those writing skills have been fundamental to my success in all those different contexts.
Can you share a brief synopsis of the book?
We all experience deep hurt, or challenging life events, at some point in our lives. We all need to care for our emotional and mental health. But most of us do so alone, with little access to help of any kind. According to the World Health Organization, hundreds of millions of people around the world struggle with emotional and relational issues—and do not have access to help. LifeCare is a response to this crisis.
The book brings together discipleship practices, Christ-centered recovery skills, and research-supported pastoral care exercises, in a way that I hope is accessible, practical and deeply encouraging. It guides you through the process of attending to your past, thought life, emotions, behaviors, and difficult circumstances to help you find a sense of joy and purpose.
I think anyone who feels called to address issues in life and relationships, but can never find the time or context, could use LifeCare as an easy entry point into that process. Or, people could work through the book in a small group study so that they could learn from one another as they apply principles and share insights together.
What inspired you to write this book? Is this topic personal for you?
Having had plenty of my own experiences of adversity and challenge, which I dip into a bit in the book, I know how important it is to have someone safe that you can be open and honest with. Someone who will encourage you, accept you as you are, help you work through things, clear up your thinking and find some sort of motivation to change and grow. The problem is that, unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find the right person. LifeCare allows people to get started on their own in the privacy of their home. Then, if the opportunity presents itself and they feel they still need to connect with a counselor or coach, what they learned from the book will accelerate their process.
Talk to me about the kinds of people you'd like to help. What does an individual who might need help look like, what are they experiencing?
They might be experiencing trouble in their relationships, anxiety, some sort of addiction, shame, loss, fear, anxiety, or depression. They might not know how to access help, or not be able to afford it. They might wonder what their purpose is, or if they even have one. LifeCare draws from Christian spiritual principles to address these issues, but is also research-based, so regardless of the reader’s belief system, I think they'll find the book takes a pragmatic approach to many of life's difficulties.
Do you have an example of someone who needed help and found it through LifeCare?
Sure, there are lots of stories. One I'm quite fond of is a woman in her 80's who read the book and wrote to tell me that it had helped her identify and process through some unhealthy childhood dynamics - things that had affected her deeply but that she’d never fully understood. I love that the book helped unlock something in her that had lay dormant for so long, and that she had found a new sense of peace because of it. She liked it so much she's shared it with a handful of her friends as well. It just goes to show that it's never too late to change and discover new dimensions to life, or to help others do the same.
If you are interested in receiving coach training, or hosting a coach training in your church, non-profit or workplace, please visit www.forwardcce.com, where you can also purchase a copy of LifeCare.
Can you tell me a little more about the companion Training Manual?
The manual is used in our LifeCare training, which equips people with an eclectic blend of spiritual, psychotherapeutic and recovery-based coaching skills. We offer a 36-hour basic coach training, and a 24-hour advanced coach training for accreditation, and we also offer a 32-hour non-accredited coach training. Graduates use their skills to help others at their church, non-profit, workplace, or in their usual sphere of influence.